Remember the old days when candidates running for president wanted to out-macho each other? It was really not that long ago when Beta Male Al Gore hired feminist writer Naomi Wolfe to teach him how to appear more like an Alpha Male. (Naomi’s expert advice: earth tones.)
Today the debate seems to be about who is more of a woman and, just as important, who will capture the women’s vote in decisive-enough numbers, first in the primaries and then in the general election. Remember in the 2004 election, women made up 54 percent of the electorate and in several states independent women voters were the key to President Bush’s victory.
Last week Elizabeth Edwards, who is getting more out-front each day as her husband’s campaign wilts, got downright snappish about Hillary’s pushing and pushing the woman thing. Mrs. Edwards sniped, “I’m for the promotion of all women,” she told an audience in New Hampshire. “I’m not just for the promotion of one of us.” She went on to say, “Keeping that door open to women is actually more a policy of John’s than Hillary’s.”
Hillary was shrewd enough not to get into that cat fight. She let Bill unsheathe the claws and purr back to Diane Sawyer on Good Morning, America. “If you look at the record on women’s issues, I defy you to find anybody who has run for office whose got a longer history of working for women, for families, and children, than Hillary.”
I guess Bill did not want to say, no matter how much he was tempted (Can you just imagine how often he is tempted to talk about himself instead of She Who Must Be Obeyed?) that he really was “The First Woman President” “because of his record on women’s issues. Of course, that might have reminded everyone of all he had done, not for, but to certain women. And that is the one women’s issue the Clintons don’t even want to think about, let alone mention anymore.
At the moment, Hillary remains in hot pursuit of women’s voters, especially in Iowa. Women there make up a majority of caucus goers. During the last few weeks she has been wearing her Target-like pant suits and her pink pearls and doing a lot of hand-in- hand strolling with Bill all over the state. He looks her adoringly when she speaks. She looks adoringly at him whenever there is a camera nearby. They are sweeter together than a Muscatine ice-cream social.
And Hillary is doing better with women, who have had a long up-and-down relationship with her. A newly released New York Times-CBS poll reports that currently 45 percent of women have a favorable view of her while 31 percent have an unfavorable and 23 percent remain undecided. Older women and married women as well as wealthier women are the least supportive. Her staff, it has been reported, simply can’t understand why the women who are most like her, demographically, seem to dislike her the most. Maybe the notion that there are plenty of reasons to dislike her policies, consider her untrustworthy, and a phony has never occurred to the faithful in Hillary World.
But perhaps the poll’s most significant finding is the grim inevitability that now surrounds her campaign. The vast majority of all voters think it is likely or somewhat likely that she will win the Democratic nomination and 60 percent think she will win the presidency.
Until after the primaries, I think Hillary will remain on course to be very women-to-women focused. For example, her campaign is encouraging women to hold house parties to watch this Monday night’s televised Democratic debate. Her supporters are also testing a recorded telephone message that claims if Hillary becomes president the listener’s daughter or granddaughter will walk a little taller. I wonder what Mrs. Edwards will say about that.
If she wins the primaries and is certain of the nomination I predict there will be some big changes. No more girlish giggles punctuating her speeches. No more goo-goo eyes and handholding with Bill. He will be probably be put under home confinement in Chappaqua. And goodbye to those pink pearls. Her wardrobe till Election Day will be–yes, you guessed it — heavy on the earth tones.